Skyword Raises $25M to Fund Expansion & Product Innovation
Earlier this month, here at CMS-Connected, we discussed how content studios are poised for a remarkable bloom in 2018, and why telling a captivating brand story is one of the main reasons behind the long-lasting impact of content marketing. Since marketers shifted away from utilizing the typically ignored banners, annoying popups, autoplay video ads, and salesy news stories geared so obviously on lead generation to providing quality content, marketing technology providers have garnered so much traction. In fact, one of them, Skyword, a content marketing software and services company, recently announced that it has raised $25 million in growth equity from Rho Acceleration, a division of Rho Capital Partners. The recent cash injection brought Skyword’s total financing to $54 million since its founding in 2010. The company also established an additional $5 million working capital line with Cambridge Trust.
For those who are not familiar with growth equity deals, venture capital funds, private equity firms, or other investors, typically plunge some capital into relatively mature companies to reinforce their expansion. With this in mind, as expected, the Boston-based firm confirmed that the latest proceeds will allow the organization to accelerate growth globally along with product innovation. They also plan to nearly double the size of its 28-member engineering team at work in Downtown Pittsburgh. Also, Skyword, which currently employs 160 people in Boston and Pittsburgh, plans to grow to 229 employees by the end of the year.
“We are thrilled that Rho Acceleration has recognized that marketers must transform their approach from an ad-centric to a story-centric one. This investment validates that the Skyword Platform, our global freelance network, and our companion services enable Skyword to deliver unmatched offerings to global brands,” said Tom Gerace, CEO of Skyword.
Gerace, a Bethel Park native, began his career in 1996 by co-founding, along with his brother, Be Free Inc. an online marketing services firm, in Pittsburgh. The company went public in 1999. Prior to forming Skyword in 2010, he also founded Gather.com, a news and social-networking website.
“People are avoiding and blocking interrupt ads and marketing techniques in record numbers. But they’re consuming great content at unprecedented rates. To succeed, marketers must shift their fundamental marketing approach from ad-centric to story-centric. Our content marketing and personalization technologies were designed to support this new marketing approach from the ground-up. We augment our technology with managed services and a global community of freelance creatives, enabling marketers to build relationships with customers and prospects through personalized content experiences that reward customer attention,” said Gerace in a statement.
An Overview of Skyword's Platform and Services
The Skyword Platform is designed to produce, optimize, manage, and promote content at any scale to help brands create and build personalized, deeper relationships with their target audiences. Skyword also links a community of thousands of freelance writers and videographers, an editorial team, and program managers with brands with a mission of helping move clients’ content marketing programs to new levels of creative excellence. So far, the organization has helped to create more than one million stories in the form of articles, videos, images, infographics, podcasts, and animations. Those stories have seen more than 1.8 billion visits organically. Skyword has paid freelance creatives more than $20 million on behalf of brands.
Skyword’s customers include Abbott Laboratories, ADP, AutoTrader, GE Health, Glenmede, Groupon, HortonWorks, HP, Lahey Health, IBM, and other well-known B2B and B2C brands. Mary Ann Flynn, Skyword’s vice president of content services, claims that although they can’t release the exact number or names of clients who use their services, “well above 90% are household names.”
The Skyword Marketing Calendar is built to align the business strategy with the rest of marketing and provide other teams across the organization visibility into the content marketing game plan. That way, everyone in the enterprise who has a stake in the project has visibility and clarity.
The SEO Scorecard is built on the Skyword Platform to make search engine optimization clear as well as to simplify the compliance process by providing quality assurance.
The Skyword Digital Asset Manager enables users to securely organize their content assets from images, infographics, and videos to articles into libraries in a way that users can quickly and easily search them later on as all the assets are tagged and annotated with detailed information. Users can also set criteria before assets are uploaded. The platform also makes it easy to reuse files or embed them into a content body editor.
Skyword supports multiple languages, including Chinese (Traditional), Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, and Ukrainian.
The platform has an API available for use and integrates with Marketo, Twitter, Wordpress, Oracle Eloqua, Kaltura, Google Analytics, Drupal, Facebook, Domo, SEMrush, Adobe Experience Manager, Outbrain, and Ceros.
In February 2017, the company brought artificial intelligence to its content marketing platform and rolled out Skyword Personalized Recommendations (SPR), an artificial intelligence-based engine that delivers personalized onsite and email recommendations. With this new addition, its users are now able to provide onsite recommendations for specific audiences based on personas built with Skyword’s deep learning and predictive technology.
The Skyword Platform’s content management features include:
|Approval Process Control
|Rich Text Editor
The Skyword Platform’s content marketing features include:
|Categorization / Grouping
|Social Media Management
When considering a technology investment, it is always very beneficial to do thorough due diligence that involves what the actual users have to say about their experiences with the platforms, alongside the experts’ reviews. To that point, I scoured the internet to see a few Skyword reviews. Overall, people seem to be satisfied with the platform as well as the services. To be honest, there were just a couple of slightly negative comments on the platform, and the most common one was about some limitations regarding SEO.
How It Works
To put how it works into perspective, I will explain the video curation and collaboration process as an example.
First things first, since the organization is not only providing a platform but also content marketing services, prior to the production of the first video, the team takes time to understand the brand, its marketing message, and its target audience. From there, they collaborate on developing strategy, vision, and a creative brief as a roadmap of the project. This process starts with the client creating an assignment on the platform by choosing the content type, inserting a video title and keywords, determining the type of work and video, indicating a call-to-action, adding a sample and sharing what they like/dislike about the sample uploaded. With choosing the submission date, the creative brief would be built.
From there, users can push the creative brief to live to video professionals in their global network and request bids. Users can form their own team of scriptwriters, editors, set designers, actors, animators, sound technicians, and such by browsing Skyword’s diverse library of contributors and contacting them directly. Once the team is chosen, the creation process begins. In this stage, collaboration is paramount when it comes to a detailed (timestamped) rough cut review of the video so the platform provides an effective collaborative environment. When the video content is ready to meet the target audience, it can be published both to other video platforms like YouTube and Skyword’s platform, where users can manage their entire video treasury and keep track of important metrics.
Today, we see more and more brands producing content in an editorial manner. The main purpose here is to tell a compelling story that resonates with the target audience. To do so, they generate a variety of content types, from articles, photography, and social posts to videos, podcasts, live streaming events, and immersive virtual reality experiences. What differentiates one content creation process from another is a human being's ability to create unique ideas and knit them with their already developed logical and rational process. With this in mind, Skyword’s business model is not a bad idea at all as it seems to be aligned with the emerging trends in the content marketing industry.
When it comes to leveraging crowdsourcing, some may see it as something of a double-edged sword because leveling the playing field may undermine all the work put into the profession. In my view, it creates a win-win situation because as Skyword also points out on its website, creating even one-to-three original video clips involves scriptwriters, editors, set equipment, set designers, actors, technicians, and more. When you have an in-house content studio, you should be providing all these resources. However, unless you are already in the video making business, assembling all those is neither an easy nor inexpensive task. Instead of reinventing the wheel, why not take advantage of globalization in the modern world where the line between the next cubicle and the next continent has already been blurred.